A Late Night in the Studio with Ernest Hemingway and Winslow Homer

8 x 10" watercolor sketch of vintage lures

8 x 10″ watercolor sketch of vintage lures

“The hardest thing to do,” said [Hemingway], “is to write straight honest prose on human beings.  First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write.  Both take a lifetime to learn, and anybody is cheating who takes politics as a way out.  All the outs are too easy, and the thing itself is too hard to do.”

Carlos Baker, Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story 

I am not a slow reader.  I am a ponderous reader.  I linger over passages for days before moving on, extracting ideas from them that seem to compost slowly.  I read somewhere that Alfred, Lord Tennyson was a plodder in his thinking, leading some of his contemporaries to believe he was intellectually dim.  I started this Hemingway biography at the end of last year, and am now only 285 pages in, because I keep stopping and ruminating on its contents.  I’m fascinated with the man’s drive, his discipline in learning the writer’s craft, his conviction that if it took the entire morning to create one good prose sentence, that the time wasn’t wasted.  I opened with the passage above, because for two days now, I have slowed way down on what is supposed to be a watercolor sketch, to study my subject, and learn how to use my materials better.  Hemingway made me do that.

Winslow Homer has also been a great companion recently.  The book Watercolors of Winslow Homer: The Color of Light has returned to my Man Cave drafting table.  I am absorbed with all the ways Homer pushed his media to its limits.  Every time I study his watercolors and read of his methods, I realize that I have been approaching my task with one hand tied behind my back, that I have assumed a position of self-limitation, for no other reason than just mental laziness.

For the past day and a half, I have spent more time looking at my subject and my painting, and in addition to painting, I have been drawing and re-drawing over it, salting it, re-wetting it, sponging it, scraping it, blotting it, rubbing it–all the techniques Homer employed to get a different look, to push my painting to the edge of the envelope.  After all, it’s just a sketch, right?  And sketches are laboratory experiments, right?  And sketches don’t have to be framed, right?  Don’t have to be gallery worthy, right?  I am just having to relearn and reapply what I’ve already known for over a decade.  And I’m having fun with it.  I have already settled it in my heart, that this vintage tackle box overflowing with lures is not going to be a one-shot composition.  I have much to learn from this still life, much to figure out about form, composition, color arrangement, and who knows what else.  And I have the time, the space and the interest to pursue it.

I received word also tonight, that my private art student from last year, who entered the Booker T. Washington School of Performing and Visual Arts, took first place with the oil still life that I posted last week!  The exhibition that I viewed last week during its reception was actually a competition.  I did not know that.  And this remarkable 15-year-old took first place!  Words cannot express my pride for her.  I look forward to our next time together to make art.  She is going to go far, and always inspires me with her drive and focus.

The hour has gotten late.  The past two mornings I have risen between 4 and 5 a.m., to get an early jump on the school task, and now I feel the energy beginning to wane.  I have a heavy teaching load tomorrow, and am already concerned about potential regrets.  I cannot let that happen.

So, thanks for reading, for staying up with me, with Hemingway, with Homer.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

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6 Responses to “A Late Night in the Studio with Ernest Hemingway and Winslow Homer”

  1. Mark Green Says:

    David, I have enjoyed your blogs lately. From your influence I have just read Hemmingway’s short stories while on vacation. A Short and Happy Life was my favorite. I fish as well and attempt watercolors in my spare time, though I do not have the drive you do for your painting. I appreciate your sharing of your deeper thoughts. Mark


    • davidtripp Says:

      I appreciate you, Mark. Thank you for commenting. I’m always delighted to meet a fellow fisherman, watercolorist and Hemingway reader! Funny, I have read him sparingly over the past 30 years, but now this biography has me hooked to know everything I can about him. So much of what he said about the writer’s craft fits what I’m seeking in making art. Thank you again for your comments.


  2. raehering Says:

    Thank you for sharing about your process and what you have learned from Watercolor of Winslow Homer. Because of your recent mindset, you may relate to this song I wrote called “Watercolor.” You can listen/download on my blog: http://wp.me/p3mOze-m. I hope you do.


    • davidtripp Says:

      Oh, Rae. I’ve listened to your song three times, and am moved profoundly. Thank you for finding me, and sharing it, as many other thank you as well for how it is moving and enriching them. I play acoustic guitar, and love listening to others who play and sing as you do. Knowing you have this power to compose music that touches lives, there must be quite a rush of fulfillment for you. I hope you will continue to draw inner wealth from this gift, and find ways to get your music out before us. I cannot thank you enough.


      • raehering Says:

        David – I am most fulfilled when I hear comments like yours! I am overjoyed that my song touches you. Music certainly has the ability to reach deep into our emotion spheres in ways that mere words may not be able – I am thankful for this gift and hope to share it with as many people as possible! I also look forward to seeing your new paintings as they come.


  3. coreyaber Says:

    I am enjoying following the development of this sketch. It’s interesting and instructive to see the varied techniques used here. Thanks also for you comment about your palette recently. This helped push me beyond the earth tones, which I had used a lot for convenience, to try a limited more transparent palette for the same sorts of subjects. I am excited about experimenting further with it.

    I like that you’re relating your painting to Hemingway, who, more for his approach than his writing itself, is a favorite of mine. I often use his iceberg metaphor with my staff and colleagues when discussing how to present information and have quick productive meetings. Funny how he fits so well into the workplace.


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